Jack Renner of Telarc: Direct from Cleveland! Page 2
Renner: Sure. I know what it's like to stand in front of a performing group. I know what it feels like. I know what it sounds like, the mix of direct and reverberant sound, for example.
Scull: Ah, that neatly leads me to The Question. What do you think is the purpose of a high-end system? What are we looking for when we pop a Telarc CD into the player? Is it the re-creation of acoustic instruments in real space, or a faithful re-creation of the master tape?
Renner: Well, there shouldn't be any difference. The master tape should sound like real musicians in real acoustic space. John Atkinson and I had this same conversation around 1980 or '81 (footnote 1). I'll say the same thing to you that I said to him back then.
Scull: Oh, nooo! [laughs]
Renner: Given the problems with early digital, the signal we put on the tape was fine. It was just getting it back off that was the problem. And I think in the last few years we've really come to realize that more and more.
Scull: What do you use today?
Renner: Well, basically, 20- or 24-bit masters—which, of course, have to be noise-shaped down to 16 bits. Most of our recording is done with the Tascam DA-88, and we archive at 24/96. Steve Lee at Canorus, the importer for dCS and Nagra, has been following us around occasionally as well. And we're about to take a look at the new Sony/Philips Direct Stream Digital, which my associate, Michael Bishop, and my associate engineer and good friend and colleague Tony Faulkner, in England, have a great deal of experience with.
Scull: So what's the future of recording? What will you be using in five years?
Renner: I really believe that it will be a system that offers a higher bit rate, probably 24, and at least a 96k sampling rate. That will allow you to record in at least six channels. And right now we're severely limited that way.
Scull: How do you mean?
Renner: We're doing an awful lot of things in surround-sound these days. A lot of people have home-theater systems, and they love getting high-quality audio to play on them. But with the dCS/Nagra system you're looking at around $35k for two channels from your friendly, local Canorus dealer! We've used the Tascam for several years now. It's still tape [the Tascam uses Hi-8 8mm video tape—Ed.], but it's very reliable in the field. You know, with a DA-88 you can record six tracks of 20-bit information, or four tracks at 24 bits.
Scull: How's it sound?
Renner: Well, as long as you're using external A/Ds and D/As, it's quite good.
Scull: How do you edit?
Renner: Well, the biggest problem now is there's no efficient way of editing 24/96 or 24/192 recordings. However, there's lots of work going on to supply editing equipment for all formats. I'm told by Sonic Solutions they'll have something available within the next few months. We'll probably archive in DSD when the gear becomes available. The beauty of DSD, of course, is that it can be formatted into any sampling and bit rate you choose. Take your pick.
Scull: What do you use now?
Renner: We have three editing systems: two Sonic Solutions [running on Macintosh platforms], and one SADIE [running on a Windows PC]. You just can't do it without them.
Scull: What's the secret to making a really good recording, Jack?
Renner: Well, it all really comes down to the signal path and, I think, to the combination of components. For years, when I first started making orchestral recordings with three and four microphones, I had a lot of imitators. But people just didn't quite get it right. Because it's not just putting up three or four mikes. It's which mikes you choose, it's the cable, it's the electronics—it's the whole signal path.
I like to take a classical approach to everything I do. By that I mean I'll use basically the same microphones on jazz as I will on classical. Typically I'll use a lot of omnidirectional microphones, for example—which, in a club, is asking for trouble because of leakage. You know, a lot of jazz engineers would be scared to death to put omnis out on stage because of that. But it gives me a wider dynamic range, a better frequency response, and a more natural re-creation.
Scull: What else do you use?
Renner: Well, cardioids on drums, bass, and horns. But I use omnis wherever I can get away with it.
Scull: Anything out in the audience?
Renner: A one-point stereo mike or spaced omnis again.
Scull: You don't use Blumlein?
Renner: Well, a crossed-pair of figure-8 mikes has a limited low-end response. And for me it gives too much image specificity. Everything is locked right in there and there. Lots of people love that, but I like omnis. They'll give you more bloom and more sense of space.
Scull: Are the types of mikes you use a secret?
Renner: No, not at all. I use a lot of B&Ks, Schoeps, and Sennheisers. We try to select mikes that have very low noise floors, and as flat a frequency response as we can find. We do have some vintage Neumann tube mikes with silver internal cabling—you know, the usual tweaky stuff. Similar to what your brother does, Jonathan. But I couldn't find him when we needed them fixed!
Scull: [laughs] I can never find him either! I don't think many people know that microphone maven Stephen Paul of Stephen Paul Audio is my brother. He doesn't use the family name. Moving right along, what mike preamps do you use?
Renner: We typically use Millennias, which, we feel, as solid-state units go, are the most neutral-sounding.
Scull: Do you keep them close to the mikes?
Renner: Normally we put them right on the stage with a short mike-line run. In the case of The Jazz Messengers' The Legacy of Art Blakey that you and Kathleen attended at Iridium, we had a very short cable run. And the mike preamps were right in that little back-room office. If there was any chance at all of something overloading, or if I didn't have the gain structure just right, I didn't have to go crawling out on stage during the performance and tweak the pots!
Scull: So the boss of Telarc is still crawling around on his knees! What kind of a mixing console did you use?
Renner: We were using the Millennia Mixing Suite. It's fabulous-sounding. Well, you know, I shouldn't refer to it as sounding like anything, because it's really very neutral and uncolored, which is unusual.
Footnote 1: For an interview published in the January 1983 issue of the UK magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review. The late Peter W. Mitchell also interviewed Jack Renner for Stereophile in January 1990 (Vol.13 No.1, p.119).—John Atkinson